May is Mental Health Month, intended to raise awareness of mental health conditions and mental wellness for everyone.  1 in 4 American adults has a diagnosable mental health condition, and with proper treatment and support they can maintain full, productive lives.  The hard part is getting that proper treatment and support.

One of the most common mental health disorders is depression.  Nearly 7% of American adults will endure at least one depressive episode in their lifetime, with a third of those episodes so severe that they impact the ability to work or go to school, and may even require hospitalization.  Yet, barely half of people who suffer from depression ever seek professional treatment for it.

A “depressive episode” is generally defined as a period of at least two weeks in a person’s life in which they experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness, often losing interest in activities that bring them pleasure.  Occasionally it’s severe enough to trigger thoughts of self-injury or suicide.  People who suffer from ongoing significant depressive episodes are believed to have major depressive disorder, while chronic mild depression is called dysthymia.  Depression is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.  This imbalance can be caused by a number of factors, including genetics, personality, physical illness, substance abuse, hormonal changes and negative or stressful life events.

Though it’s as much a physical health issue as mental, people with depression often ignore their conditions and refuse to seek treatment for it.  Often it’s due to inability to pay for treatment, as few medical insurance plans offer adequate coverage for mental health services, but it’s also due to the long-held belief that people with depression can just “snap out of it” and feel better without assistance.  They are told to simply cheer up, or made to feel as though their problems are inconsequential, and often go for months, even years without proper treatment.  Major depressive disorder may require at minimum talk therapy, and treatment may also include medication to restore neurotransmitter balance, or cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps people avoid certain thought patterns and situations that trigger depressive episodes.  Cognitive behavioral therapy is also helpful for people with anxiety disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you suffer from depression, it’s important to reach out to others for help, even if it’s just a friend or family member.  Though the temptation to isolate yourself and think of your problems as a burden to others may be great, in the long run it won’t improve your situation.  Depression is treatable and should not be a source of embarrassment.  If you have a friend or a loved one with depression, encourage them to seek help and let them know that you support and care about them.  Depression can feel like it has a tight and permanent hold on your life, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Getting help is the first step in getting your life back.

Gena Radcliffe

Medex Supply Blogger

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